Now this is must-see TV.
For the first time in college football history, two top-10 matchups will be played on a Thursday night: No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor and No. 3 Oregon at No. 5 Stanford. National championship hopes hang in the balance.
How big is Thursday? Not a single Saturday this year has showcased a pair of top-10 games, and the best this Saturday offers is No. 13 LSU at No. 1 Alabama, which is pretty much dessert to Thursday’s prime rib.
“It’s exciting, having a big national stage, knowing so many people will be watching us,” Baylor receiver Tevin Reese told the media Tuesday.
Oklahoma-Baylor might be the biggest event Fox Sports 1 has aired since the new cable network was rolled out in August. Now if folks can only find the fledgling network. (Hint: Try Ch. 97 on Time Warner, Ch. 219 on DirecTV and Ch. 150 on Dish.)
Oklahoma football has long been a national brand. Baylor started to gain traction, though, in 2011 behind Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, and the Bears have piqued fans’ curiosity this year with a team that leads the nation in 12 offensive categories, including scoring (63.9) and total yardage (718.4).
The Bears, enjoying their highest ranking in 60 years, are so explosive they are favored by 14½ points, even though they’ve lost 21 of 22 games to the Sooners.
Fox is trying to build a college audience with the help of big games like OU-Baylor. “We like to call them tent-pole events. This is one,” Bill Wanger, an executive vice president at Fox Sports, told the Associated Press.
The Longhorns will always be Central Texas’ team, but the Bears can make a claim to being the area’s second-favorite team.
Reese, with 33 catches for 824 yards and eight touchdowns, is part of a significant Centex posse in Waco. Lache Seastrunk, the Big 12’s leading rusher with 869 yards, a 9.1 average and 11 TDs, was Reese’s teammate at Temple High. Inside runner Glasco Martin, who has five TDs, is from Stony Point; starting left tackle Spencer Drango is from Cedar Park; and middle linebacker Bryce Hager of Westlake is fifth in the Big 12 in tackles.
Oregon-Stanford has been a huge matchup for a while now. The past three years, the winner went on to claim the Pac-12 title and the loser suffered its only regular-season defeat.
The game, which begins 1½ hours after OU-Baylor kicks off, will offer a great contrast in styles: Oregon’s frenetic, fast-break offense vs. Stanford’s rock-ribbed, old-school defense.
ESPN expects a rating that could approach the 3.7 that No. 3 Texas’ 49-39 victory over Texas A&M pulled Thanksgiving 2009 — its best ever for a Thursday college game.
“We’re fired up,” said Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions. “Thursday is a big-time opportunity for teams to gain exposure. On Saturdays the games tend to wash you over. Thursdays are different.”
Thursday’s big ones
10-Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) at 6-Baylor (7-0, 4-0), 6:30 p.m. (FS1)
3-Oregon (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) at 5-Stanford (7-1, 5-1), 8 p.m. (ESPN)